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Minister shrugs off criticism of 3G impact, says every little helps

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – New health minister Ernst Kuipers has been criticised by opposition MPs for his support of the 3G coronavirus pass system and for being too optimistic about its impact at Tuesday’s press conference.

Kuipers said during the conference that the use of the 3G passes – which limit admission to certain locations to people who have either recently had coronavirus, been boostered or have a negative test – could cut infections by up to 15%.

The minister was referring to recent research carried out at Delft University of Technology which said 3G could have this impact, if used everywhere apart from at school and home, and if the conditions were optimal.

Kuipers told MPs during a parliamentary debate that he had accurately reflected the research results in his comments. He also said that as far as he is concerned ‘every percentage is worth it’ given that the number of infections is rising steadily.

The number of people being hospitalised with coronavirus is increasing slowly as the Omicron variant takes hold, but the number of actual cases remains difficult to assess because of IT issues.

The daily figures published by the RIVM now appear to be around 10,000 short of the real total and the backlog of cases which have not filtered through from regional health boards has built up to 78,000, the Volkskrant reported on Thursday.

Nevertheless, the figures do indicate a rate of at least 65,000 new infections a day over the past week and an increase of 55% on the previous seven-day period, the paper said.

Clubs

During Wednesday’s debate on the government’s coronavirus strategy, Kuipers did say he would talk to night clubs and night cafes about the option of introducing a 1G strategy for them – so that only people who have tested negative are allowed in.

Clubs have been closed for almost all of the past two years and still remain shut under the current rules. However, 1G is not an option in more places because of the pressure it would place on testing facilities, he said.

(DutchNews)

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European drugs agency clears Pfizer’s anticoronavirus medicine

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency on Thursday said it had given conditional market authorisation to Pfizer’s coronavirus drug, meaning it could soon be used in the Netherlands.

The drug has been shown to reduce both the risk of death and hospital admissions among coronavirus patients who risk becoming seriously ill, such as people who are overweight or have diabetes, the EMA said.

The EMA gave permission for the drug to be used in the EU earlier but had not given it official clearance. The Netherlands opted to wait for that decision. ‘We hope that this drug will contribute to the treatment of people at home,’ said Ton de Boer, head of the Dutch medicine’s agency.

‘Healthcare providers can prescribe Paxlovid to coronavirus patients who are in an at-risk group and have a large chance of being hospitalized.’ The cost of the drug has not yet been finalised.

The EMA said the safety profile of Paxlovid was favourable and side effects were generally mild. However, ritonavir – one of the two component parts – is known to affect the action of many other medicines, and warnings and advice have been included in Paxlovid’s product information, the EMA said.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus cases double in children, hospital admissions up by 15%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Coronavirus infections more than doubled in school-age children as one person in 50 tested positive for the virus in the last week, according to the latest weekly bulletin by the RIVM.

The official figure of 361,120 – a 51% increase since last week – is incomplete because an estimated 60,000 tests are still waiting to be analysed, the public health agency said.

Latest figures also show the high number of infections is beginning to affect the hospital numbers. Since mid-December the total number of patients with coronavirus has fallen by 60%, but the number of new admissions was 15% higher last week at 855.

‘This shows that the turning point from decline to increase has been reached,’ the RIVM commented in its report.

The number of patients in intensive care has gone down from 303 to 252 in the last week, while new admissions were down by 34%. The highest infection rate was in the 10 to 14 age group, 6.1% of whom tested positive in the last week.

The RIVM said infections were 161% higher in primary school children and up by 112% in secondary school pupils. Positive tests were more than 65% higher in people aged 35 to 44, but in most over-50 age groups the increase was less than 12%.

Another 54,225 cases were reported in the last 24 hours, taking the seven-day average figure above 50,000 for the first time. The RIVM also reported 61 more deaths from Covid-19, compared to 63 in the previous week.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus rules relaxed as ministers stress Covid is ‘not flu’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is relaxing most remaining coronavirus rules from Wednesday but will look again at the infection rates in three weeks’ time, prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Tuesday evening.

‘We are taking a very big step and it feels very odd after two years,’ Rutte said. The decision to make the closing time 10pm for cafes, bars, restaurants, and theatres, rather than 8pm as health experts recommended, follows requests from regional safety board chiefs and mayors, he said.

The aim of a uniform closing time, he said, is to make sure there are as few exceptions as possible. ‘After all the campaigns and the emotions, we are looking to go to the limit, he said.

‘It is a real risk.’ From Wednesday, cinemas, theatres, museums, cultural venues, and the hospitality sector can reopen their doors, but the 1.5 metre rule remains in force and people must wear a mask when moving around indoors.

The coronavirus pass will also be a requirement for entry, and a maximum capacity of 1,250 will be introduced for mass events. As expected, the quarantine rules for schools are also being relaxed, to limit the number of classes being sent home.

The measures are being introduced for a six-week period but will be reassessed on March 8.

Not flu

Both Rutte and health minister Ernst Kuipers stressed several times that ‘coronavirus is not a light dose of flu,’ as many people think. The changes that are being made now could lead to the number of infections topping 100,000 a day, Kuipers said.

‘If you look at the situation in Belgium, France and Denmark, you can see that the infection rates there are 1.5 to twice as high as in the Netherlands, per head of the population,’ he said.

At the same time, hospital admissions are up to five times as high in the Netherlands. ‘If we have more infections, you will end up with more people in hospital,’ Kuipers said.

3G

The use of the 3G coronavirus pass system, which allows people entry to certain locations if they have had a booster, recently recovered from coronavirus or have tested negative, will reduce the infections by up to 15%, Kuipers said, referring to recent research carried out at Delft University of Technology.

Kuipers also disputed recent comments by the top WHO official in Europe, who suggested that the end of the pandemic could be near. ‘It is too early to say if this is the end of the pandemic,’ he said.

‘The virus is not going anywhere, and we could get a variant which makes people more ill. Then we will be in a very serious situation.’

(DutchNews)

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500 care workers face redundancy after developing Long Covid

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Over 500 healthcare workers face losing their jobs because they are suffering from Long Covid and have been on sick pay for the regulation two years, according to the FNV trade union federation.

In total 1,850 healthcare workers contacted an FNV hotline about the issue, which was opened in December.

The public health institute RIVM estimates 238,000 healthcare workers caught coronavirus and, the FNV says, most of the Long Covid reports they have had come from people who work in nursing homes or as home nurses.

The FNV and fellow union federation CNV have for some time been urging the cabinet to set up a fund for healthcare staff who have suffered financially after developing coronavirus during their work.

In particular in the early days of the pandemic, proper protective clothing was not available for some workers. Permanent employees are paid at least 70% of their salary for two years if they become unable to work through ill health, although some employers increase this to 100%.

After two years, however, they can be sacked and then have to claim invalidity benefit (WIA). In some cases that will be half that of their original salary, the FNV says. Freelance and contract workers are in an even more difficult financial situation.

Parliament

Last week, MPs voted in favour of a motion which calls on the government to formally recognise Long Covid as an illness and which will ensure all nursing staff are entitled to invalidity benefits.

The government has asked the national health council to make recommendations about how to deal with Long Covid which will be published in the first quarter of this year.

That report will specifically look into the the situation facing healthcare workers and their income if they develop Long Covid, a health ministry spokesman said.

(DutchNews)

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Bars, cafes and theatres set to get green light to open until 10pm

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet is poised to overrule its team of health advisory experts and sanction bar, café and cinema opening up to 10pm, sources in The Hague have told the AD and news agency ANP.

Indoor and outdoor events will also get the green light again, although there will be strict rules on capacity, the AD said. Indoor events will be limited to 1,250 visitors, while outdoors capacity will be limited to one third.

In addition, everyone will have to show a coronavirus pass. The NRC said at the weekend that the Outbreak Management Team had backed reopening the hospitality and cultural sectors, but only up to 8pm, with some exceptions.

Ministers have agreed to introduce a 10pm deadline across the board to make enforcement easier. Ministers will take a final decision on Tuesday, ahead of a 7pm press conference with prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Ernst Kuipers.

The further relaxation of the rules, if confirmed, would come at a time when the number of new infections is soaring, and the regional health boards are struggling to cope with processing the numbers.

On Monday, 64,757 new infections were reported to the public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to 10am, but thousands of other cases have not been processed.

Protests

Both the hospitality industry and the cultural sector staged protests about being closed last week, and a number of local mayors have called on the government to ‘fundamentally rethink’ its coronavirus strategy.

Junior culture minister Gunay Uslu said before the Friday cabinet meeting that cultural institutions should open as quickly as possible. ‘They have been closed for too long and that has to change,’ she said.

In parliament on Thursday, prime minister Mark Rutte said the government ‘is hoping for a relaxation in the rules but can’t give any guarantees’ until it has data on the effects of opening shops, contact professions and gyms on Saturday 15 January.

(DutchNews)

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Health advisors say cafes, museums and theatres can reopen, up to 8pm

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Cafes, restaurants, museums and theatres should be allowed to open their doors again up to 8pm, government health advisors are reported as saying.

The NRC said on Saturday that the Outbreak Management Team made the recommendation in its latest advisory note to the government, and that strict conditions are attached.

No details have yet been leaked about what those conditions are, but they could include seating requirements, limits on numbers and coronavirus passes. Ministers are due to discuss the recommendation on Monday and on Tuesday a new press conference with prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Ernst Kuipers is likely.

The NRC said the cabinet does intend to follow the OMT’s advice but that minister are also considering allowing theatres and sports events to close their doors at 10pm.

Protests

Both the hospitality industry and the cultural sector staged protests about being closed last week, and a number of local mayors have called on the government to ‘fundamentally rethink’ its coronavirus strategy.

Junior culture minister Gunay Uslu said before the Friday cabinet meeting that cultural institutions should open as quickly as possible. ‘They have been closed for too long and that has to change,’ she said.

In parliament on Thursday, prime minister Mark Rutte said the government ‘is hoping for a relaxation in the rules but can’t give any guarantees’ until it has data on the effects of opening shops, contact professions and gyms on Saturday 15 January.

The number of people being treated in hospital for coronavirus continues to decline, figures published on Saturday show. There are now 1,083 coronavirus patients in hospital, of whom 287 are in an IC ward.

(DutchNews)

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Head teachers, public health chiefs call for new school quarantine rules

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Pressure is mounting on government health advisors to relax the quarantine rules for schools, as an increasing number of pupils are being sent home.

On Friday, public health chiefs warned that youngsters are facing more and more problems because of the quarantine regulations. They say the rules need to be replaced because ‘the use of the quarantine tool for school pupils has missed its target and the damage to health is increasing’.

Currently complete classes are sent home if three or more pupils test positive for coronavirus within a week. Research by school heads organisation AVL suggests that as many as one in four primary school classes could be home at any one time and this is only likely to increase as Omicron spreads.

Digital education, used when classes are sent home or during lockdowns, is leading to increasing developmental delays, the experts say. This is due in part to the difficulty of learning in a busy home environment, and because some parents cannot support their children in the process.

The government has already relaxed the quarantine rules for people who have been fully vaccinated, including a booster, or who had coronavirus within the past eight weeks.

But school pupils are not yet eligible for a booster and the campaign to vaccinate the under 12s has only just started, health board chief Andre Rouvoet said in an opinion piece in the Volkskrant on Friday.

Social isolation

The social isolation is also serious, Rouvoet said. ‘Pupils who are in quarantine are not allowed to have physical contact with classmates or friends. Young people are struggling with loneliness and depression and feel that they have ended up in a hopeless situation.’

The coronavirus measures have led to social contacts being curtailed for a long period, he said, and ‘children’s social and emotional resilience is declining rapidly’. AVL chairwoman Ingrid Doornbos told broadcaster NOS that the current situation is also detrimental to the quality of education because schools are taking so much time with organisational issues.

The government’s Outbreak Management Team is looking at the quarantine rules for schools at its meeting on Friday.

(DutchNews)

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Calls for culture and hospitality to reopen in long-term Covid approach

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Pressure is increasing on the Dutch government to open cultural institutions and bars and restaurants, following a national ‘hairdresser theatre’ protest on Wednesday.

Junior culture minister Gunay Uslu said before the Friday cabinet meeting that cultural institutions should open as quickly as possible. ‘They have been closed for too long and that has to change,’ she said.

In parliament on Thursday, prime minister Mark Rutte said the government ‘is hoping for a relaxation in the rules but can’t give any guarantees’ until it has data on the effects of opening shops, contact professions and gyms on Saturday 15 January.

Influential voice Herbert Bruls, head of the regional safety board and mayor of Nijmegen, also lent his support to reopening the hospitality and cultural sector in radio programme Sven Op 1 on Friday morning.

Letter

Their voices join a letter to the government from Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema and Breda mayor Paul Depla, signed by 29 other local mayors and published by the Volksrant on the day of the mass cultural protest.

They called for a long-term approach that would win broad social support. They pointed out that local mayors as enforcers of the law are being put in an impossible position by an ‘unbearable situation after two years of fighting the corona crisis’, while the current mode of crisis management is ‘reaching its limits’.

The mayor said rules such as stopping at a red light are based on broad social and political consensus – but a broad swathe of society is unconvinced by the current measures, and looking despairingly for ‘loopholes in the law’.

‘Things are getting worse as even some people with legal powers are themselves breaking emergency legislation and calling on others to oppose it,’ the letter said, ‘It is in fact impossible but also undesirable for the state to use repression to forcibly convince Dutch citizens that the measures are correct.’

Loneliness

Before a press conference on Friday 14, pressure grew from the commercial sector and the government responded by opening shops without advance bookings.

Earlier this week the theatre sector said that it was time for its voice to be heard too, in a demonstration involving some 70 institutions across the country becoming temporary hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms.

Government research suggests that even the partial lockdown in November had a dramatic impact on psychological health, particularly in young people, with an increase in loneliness in all of the population and plummeting trust in politics.

(DutchNews)

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New Covid cases near 40,000, one in four primary school classes sent home

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Just under 40,000 new coronavirus cases were reported to public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to Friday morning. In total, the RIVM registered 39,978 new cases, a rise of over 1,700 on Thursday and the highest figure yet.

The increase takes the average over the past week to 36,527, or 17% up on the week earlier period. The number of people being treated in hospital for coronavirus continues to decline, falling overnight by 25 patients to 1,124.

Of them 290 are in an intensive care ward. In total 133 patients were admitted to an ordinary ward in the 24 hours to Thursday morning. Meanwhile, RIVM chief Jaap van Dissel has told MPs he thinks people who are admitted to hospital for treatment for something else, but then prove to have coronavirus, should be registered separately.

At the moment, around 5% of people admitted to hospital turn out to have coronavirus, but Van Dissel said he would not be surprised if the real total was double that. People who are in hospital for a gall bladder operation but are discovered to have coronavirus, are currently included in the daily hospital figures.

Van Dissel also told MPs that earlier RIVM forecasts about the likely number of hospital admissions because of the Omicron variant were ‘on the pessimistic side’. The institute said earlier it expected hospital admissions would be down by 40% but that now seems to be too high, Van Dissel said.

Schools

According to a survey by head teachers association AVL, around 23% of primary school pupils are currently at home because of the current rules, compared with just one in 11 a week ago.

The current rule requires classes to be sent home if more than three children test positive for the virus within a seven-day period. AVL chairwoman Ingrid Doornbos told broadcaster NOS that the current situation is detrimental to the quality of education because schools are taking so much time with organisational issues.

On Friday, the government’s Outbreak Management Team is due to meet to discuss changing the quarantine rules again.

(DutchNews)

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